the Disillusioned kid: McMinke and fries?
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Saturday, June 17, 2006

McMinke and fries?

Much has been made this week of the apparent ascendancy of pro-whaling nations within the International Whaling Comission (IWC) which is currently holding it's annual meeting. The Marshall Islands, Guatemala and Cambodia have all joined recently, allegedly at the insistence of Japan. This has helped to tip the balance within the IWC towards the pro-whaling camp, at least on paper. Intriguingly, some of the pro-whaling nations include land-locked states like Mongolia, but then as anti-whaling nations include Hungary and the Czech Republic who are similarly lacking in coastline, one should be cautious about throwing around accusations of hypocrisy too liberally.

The pro-whaling nations would like to overturn the moratorium on commercial whaling that has been in place for some twenty years. This would require the support of three-quarters of the delegates to the IWC which they are still some way from achieving, but a straight majority allows them to tweak the rules and could bring to an end work on issues Japan asserts is beyond the body's remit such welfare, killing methods, whale watching and small cetaceans such as dolphins.

The meeting started yesterday (Friday) and saw the pro-whaling nations defeated on two motions, one dealing with conservation work around propoises and dolphins. These defeats were only narrow, however, one by two votes, the other by three. The balance of power could shift after Togo and Cameroon arrived at the end of the day and paid their subscriptions, entitling them to vote.

The irony of the push for a resumption of commercial whaling is that there is little evidence that anybody is really craving for a McMinke with fries. Research, released this week, shows that demand for whale meat in Japan - the most vociferous opponent of the moratorium - is slumping. At present, whale meat from animals killed for "scientific research," allowed under the moratorium, can be sold. Despite an increase in the numbers of whales killed for such research, however, the demand for the meat is simply not there. While the price for wholesale red whale meat in 2000 was 3,760 yen (£18) per kg, the same amount today is worth 1,900 yen (£9). Traditionally, Japanese whalers prided themselves on using all of the animal, but environmentalists monitoring the cacth report having seen whalers throwing parts of the animal back, apparently because of oversupply.

In many ways, however, whales are lucky. They are large, beautiful creatures who seem have captured the world's heart. Your common all-garden fish has had a somewhat harder job trying to get itself into the media spotlight. Nevertheless, as a report by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) demonstrates, they too are in difficulty as a result of the world's seemingly voracious appetite for dead specimens. Apparently, something in the order of 3.5 million fishing boats ply the oceans, enabling global consumption of around 84.5 million tonnes every year, an increase from 20 million tonnes over a 42-year period. Coupled with pollution and other stresses, like those caused by global warming, the world's marine life isn't exactly having an easy time of it.

This, in case you were wondering, is the bit where I extol the virtues of vegetarianism. It's better for the animals (whether mammal bird or fish), it's better for the environment and it's probably better for you. Everyone's a winner, so what are you waiting for?

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